16th Nov 2018

Barroso attends Munich security conference

For the first time ever, the president of the European Commission joined the Munich security conference over the weekend, a meeting of European, US and Russian leaders.

Jose Manuel Barroso's presence fell somewhat under the radar, with his lunch speech not published on the conference website, along with the stars of the event: US vice-president Joseph Biden, French president Nicolas Sarkozy, German chancellor Angela Merkel, NATO secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and Czech EU presidency representative Alexander Vondra.

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  • Jose Manuel Barroso (l) was somewhat overshadowed by other prominent leaders at the Munich security conference. (Photo: European Commission)

"I believe this is the first time a president of the European Commission has been invited to speak at the Munich Security Conference. Could this mean the Commission is thinking of strengthening its divisions of bureaucrats with those of the military kind? Or in fact does it mean that the security dimension is widening beyond its hard military core?" Mr Barroso said in his speech, sent to the media in a press release.

He stressed the need for multilateralism, as the "only way" to tackle current security threats ranging from financial turmoil to terrorism and from energy security to climate change.

Mr Barroso called on the US to "make room at the top table for others" echoing Mr Biden's earlier statements in which he pledged to involve Europe more and to "push the reset button" in the strained relations with Russia.

US asks more help from Europe

Mr Biden also stressed that the new US administration would ask more from its European partners, especially in Afghanistan, where president Obama is planning to send more troops and expects the same from Europe.

The vice-president said the US would "continue to develop missile defences to counter a growing Iranian capability," but he also promised to do so "in consultation with our NATO allies and Russia."

In advance of Mr Biden's speech, White House aides had said the vice president would announce that the US was prepared to reconsider plans for a missile-defence system in Eastern Europe, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The final message was then toned down because of unease in Washington that Moscow was behind last week's proposed eviction of the US from an air base in Kyrgyzstan used to support the military in Afghanistan, a senior administration official travelling with Mr Biden told the US newspaper.

Sarkozy cautious about NATO

At the Munich conference, French president Nicholas Sarkozy took a rather cautious line on his country's return to NATO military command structures, a move expected to be announced at an anniversary summit hosted in France and Germany on 2-4 April.

"My conviction is that France should improve its links with NATO, by being an independent ally, a free partner of the United States," Sarkozy told the audience.

"The alliance with the United States and the alliance with Europe do not call the independence of my country into question, it strengthens its independence. This is something I am going to explain to the French people," he added.

In France, the NATO plans met some opposition among the local politicians, with Francois Bayrou, leader of the Democratic Movement party calling for a referendum and Communist senator Michelle Demessine warning that such a move would "limit our sovereignty and would be the sign of an alignment on the US administration that would rob France of its singular nature."

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the NATO secretary general, will address the foreign affairs and defence committee of the National Assembly on Thursday (12 February), and on 20 February Mr Sarkozy is due to give a speech on NATO to legislators.

Mr Biden said Saturday that Washington backs France's intention to return fully to the NATO structures.

Washington has agreed to allow French generals to be given command of NATO's Allied Command Transformation in Norfolk, Virginia, and a regional command headquarters in Lisbon if Paris decides to reintegrate.

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